The Effects of Population Growth on Resource Adequacy and Quality
Joseph L. Fisher and Neal Potter
One of the great and abiding questions for any society at any time in history concerns the relation between population and natural resources. In our time of the last few decades of the 20th century a fairly large band of neo-Malthusians remains concerned lest continuing and rapid population increase outrun the supply of food and other raw materials. A larger and very powerful group, especially in the countries that are more highly developed economically, continue to have faith that new discoveries, cheap substitutes, scientific and technological developments, and more rational management will stave off the day of Malthusian catastrophe. A rapidly increasing number of observers are turning their attention away from the quantitative aspects of the population-resource situation to the consideration of the qualitative side. Much more dangerous for the period ahead, they say, is the increasing pollution of water courses, the atmosphere, and the land itself, to the detriment of human and animal health, as well as to an aesthetically pleasing natural environment.
In terms of the sheer availability of adequate supplies of resource commodities—food, fuels, metals, water, and the like—the outlook to the end of this century for the more developed countries is reassuring; whereas for the densely populated, less developed countries (LDC's) the outlook is much more dubious and uncertain. In the qualitative sense, however, the prospect for excessive contamination of the natural environment is at least as discouraging for the more developed countries (MDC's) as for the less developed countries. A case can be made that the more developed a national or regional economy is, the more severe will be the incipient problems of environmental pollution. Developed countries have more industry and a higher proportion of their population living in cities. They consume more fuel and generate more waste residuals that ultimately have to be discharged into the water, the
Joseph Fisher is President of Resources for the Future, Inc.; Neal Potter is a member of the RFF professional staff.sity and the Style of Social Life,"